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Garland Robinette

Tune in to "The Think Tank" for independent, intelligent discussions with experts on matters of news, politics, science and much more!

Weekdays 10am-1pm

Twitter: @garlandWWL
Email: garland@wwl.com

Garland: Could Facebook swing an American election?

Facebook may have been deliberately suppressing conservative news.  If true, is it legal? Can Facebook be forced to change?

My first reaction was "So what?" There's virtually nothing in today's media that isn't biased one way or the other. But in reading about this, I stumbled upon a work by Scott Allan Morrison, a veteran Silicon Valley journalist and author of new book, "Terms of Use," a thriller about the dark side of social media that speculates how a large social media company might try to swing an election. I invited him on the Think Tank this morning to see where the truth lies.

Could the fictional story in Morrison's book become a reality?

"I spent ten years covering the big internet companies, and the short answer is, they are amassing huge amounts of our data, data we don't even appreciate we're giving out," he said. "They are much more granular in the information they collect about us than we can even imagine... if they can manipulate our emotions, they can certainly manipulate our opinions. They story you referenced, that they are suppressing conservative views, is a disturbing one."

"Really what happened here is that some low level contractors were injecting their bias, conscious or unconsciously, into the stories they were putting up... and it could very well have just been the opposite, where conservative leaning employees might have done the same thing... regardless of whether they're suppressing liberal or conservative views, the fact that this is even possible highlights Facebook's ability to set the agenda and possible impact public opinion," he continued.

"We think of Facebook as a neutral platform, and it sells itself as one. So we have to be very careful about what comes out on Facebook."

Dr. Robert Hogan, LSU Professor of Political Science, joined me after the news to explain the story from his point of view.

"Social media sites have come to play a large role in Presidential campaigns in recent years... it's a major force in American politics today, so when you hear a story like this, that gives you some pause. i think people may not be fully aware of how FB works and how news gets to them. It raises serious questions," he said.

Could it be enough of a concern to where the government intervenes and puts in some sort of regulation there?

"What we're finding out is that the things that are on the "Trending" list is not simply put there by a mathematical algorithm, but is actually made in almost an editorial sense. And to the extent that humans are involved in that, it'll be subject to their biases... there have been calls to regulate old style media and there may be calls to regulate here but, it sounds to me like the nature and direction of that is coming from conservatives, who generally don't like government regulation, so I doubt you see much government intervention here.  

To listen to the full interviews with Morrison and Dr. Hogan, click the link below.

FULL AUDIO: Garland talks Facebook and the news

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Garland: Hokie was a one-of-a-kind man

I was always jealous of those who knew and were close to Hokie Gajan.  I’d see him in the hallways, and occasionally he agreed to venture into the Think Tank.  I knew Hokie was special, because I could see that EVERYBODY thought he was special.  I’ve got to confess, if I had been a great athlete, hero of LSU, icon of the Saints, and beloved by a city, I would have bragged about it all the time.  You knew about Hokie only from someone other than Hokie. 

My personal memories are few but clear.  Every time I shook his hand my brain asked me, “Is that a hand or a catcher’s mitt?”  When I did brag to him that I had “almost become an athlete,”  he laughed.  When I attacked Hokie on my show for stealing all my knowledge of sports, he laughed.  I once said to him, “I want to be tough like you one day.”   He said, “You’ll never be as tough as me, I have four daughters...you only have one.” 

Not long ago, I actually stopped and watched Hokie walk down one our WWL hallways.  He was bent over, covered with arthritic bumps and he shuffled because of many surgeries.  He ran into 3 people, one by one he made them all laugh.  No pity, no complaining, just love of life and people around him.  Some call Hokie “a man’s man.”  Actually, he was a one of a kind man.  NEVER to be another like him.
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Garland: Why are Jefferson residents happier than Orleans residents?

Why are Jefferson Parish residents so much happier with their quality of life than New Orleanians?  

A new UNO poll says people who live in Jefferson Parish are 94% satisfied, while residents in NOLA are only 66% satisfied - and that's an eight-point drop from 2013, while results from Jefferson remained pretty much unchanged.

READ MORE: Full results of UNO quality of life survey

I invited UNO Political Science professor Dr. Ed Chervenak into "The Think Tank" this morning to see if he could help explain these findings.  "Historically, people are more satisifed in JP because it is a suburban parish. Its a much more prosperous parish, has a much stronger tax base, and government  is able to deliver services much more efficiently. Whereas in Orleans Parish, its a relatively weak base, but given its population, it requires a lot of services and so the needs outstrip the resources, and I think that's why you see a bit more negativity," he said.
I kept thinking, aside form the bliions of dollars flowing into New Orleans after Katrina, everything you read says people are starting to abandon the suburbs for the city - is that trend reflected in the study?

"We havent seen that in our poll - certainly we have had an influx of peo ple from outside New Orleans since Katrina. I don't know if we've 'bucked the trend' we're seeing in the rest of the country, where elderly people in particular are moving back to cities for public tanspotiation and access to health care. We just went through a different situation as a results of having to recover from that disaster."

I also asked Ryan Berni to chime in - he's a Senior Adviser to Mayor Landrieu. What does he think about the report?

"I think we take the long view on these kinds of things - these are just a snapshot in one period in time. I think people have reason to be more optimistic about the city, especially when you take the longer view. There was a lot of polling done with the tenth anniversary of Katrina last year, and a lot of that research showed that 70, 80% of the public was optimistic about our future and where we had come from."

To hear the entire conversation, just click on the link below.

FULL AUDIO: Garland discusses UNO quality of life poll


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Garland: Atty General Landry takes over coastal lawsuits; now what?

If our state Attorney General takes over coastal lawsuits against oil & gas, will it help the cause of Louisiana parishes or oil and gas? Jeff Landry is taking over coastal lawsuits filed by three parishes against oil and gas firms.  Will that move make Louisiana’s case stronger?  Will it make oil and gas pay... or not pay at all?  

I invited Loyola Law Professor Rob Verchick and Congressman Garret Graves into the Think Tank this morning so see about getting some clarification on this. 

"Coastal restoration is something that affects the entire state, so the Attorney General respresenting the State has the right to intervene to make sure all of these claims are being organized to the best interests of the state in general. What we don't know is exactly what Landry in this capacity is going to do, whether he's going to have the effects of strengthening the lawsuits or weakening the lawsuits, from the plaintiff's point of view," explained Verchick.

"The Parishes sued based upon state authority or state liability, so the Attorney General says look, I'm the state's chief legal officer, so I'm going to intervene and basically take over control over these so we don't have dozens of disparate efforts out there trying to manage these different lawsuits," Congressman Graves told us.

To listen to the podcast, click the link below.

FULL AUDIO: Garland talks coastal lawsuit news with Rob Verchick and Congressman Garret Graves
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Kennedy to Garland: Audits have already identified $1.7B in waste

The cutting waste versus new revenue debate continued on WWL today with Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy insisting there is a lot for government to gain by running a tighter ship.

"The legislative auditor last year did 36 audits," Kennedy told WWL's Garland Robinette. "The total amount of waste and inefficiencies that the legislative auditor in these 36 reports identified just last year, in 2015, is 1.745 billion dollars."

FULL AUDIO: John Kennedy talks budget crisis with Garland Robinette

Kennedy said it wouldn't surprise him to find that none of the agencies audited were required to do anything to change their wasteful ways.

Kennedy also sent the governor several reports from studies dating back years on areas where government can be cut -- reports Kennedy says were never acted upon.

"If his staff bothers to read the reports, they will find that many of the issues that are addressed in these reports are the same issues that we are struggling with today."

Kennedy said he knows the governor has a copy of is paper done by the Public Affairs Research Council on January 29, called  ' A Plan to Control State Spending.' 

"So the argument put forth by some that there's no specificity in terms of how we can control our costs, and therefore, we can't reduce our spending, and therefore, we have to implement the largest tax increase in the history of Louisiana, otherwise we are going to terminate the TOPS program, shut down Nicholls State University and eliminate LSU football, in my judgement, is a little over the top," said Kennedy.  
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Gov. Edwards with Garland; tough questions, tough answers on budget

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards today said he welcomes proposals for cuts to try and close a budget deficit the governor says is more than $940 million, but repeated his argument that cuts alone won't close the gap.

"We cannot simply cut our way out of this particular jam," said Edwards.

FULL AUDIO: Listen to Governor Edwards' interview with Garland Robinette

Edwards rebutted State Treasurer John Kennedy's claim that the savings can be found in state consulting contracts or repealing state laws that require money go to certain programs.

"The idea that there's enough savings on those contracts alone to solve our problems is really not based in reality," Edwards told WWL's Garland Robinette. "We can achieve some savings there and move it into the general fund...but for those people who want to try, that, too, is in the call."

Edwards said he wasn't using scare tactics when he told Louisiana in a prime-time address last week that the TOPS program could be suspended or critical health care services like dialysis could be cut. He warned that's the only way to balance the budget without finding new revenue.

"If that sentiment wins out, then those things will happen," he asserted. "I'm trying to engage in truthful conversation with the people of Louisiana."

Edwards has asked lawmakers to consider an increase in state sales tax among other ways to increase revenue.
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Garland: Arizona has virtually eliminated illegal aliens - now what?

Arizona has virtually eliminated illegal aliens from their state.  Are results good or bad?  Can Louisiana do the same?

Arizona passed some laws a few years back that meant that undocumented workers in that state, about 85% of them from Mexico, are barred from receiving government benefits, including non-emergency hospital care, punitive damages in civil suits, drivers licenses, are not eligible for in-state tuition and more.

To better understand all this, I invited Steve Camarota, Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies, onto the program to explain the effects of these new laws, and how exactly Arizona chased off illegal immigrants, and how that effected their state's economy. Is Arizona better off? Or worse?

"Immigrants overall make the US economy at least 1.7 trillion dollars bigger," Camarota said. "Illegal immigrants add 300-400 billion dollars. But in all the research, the consensus is 98% of that economic activity goes to the immigrants themselves in the form of wages and benefits, which it should, since they're the ones doing the work.

"So in a town of 100 people, when 50 people move in, you can say, look our town's economy is 50% bigger, but it doesn't answer the fundamental question - is the original population of the town better off? It just means the economy is bigger. In the same way that Bangladesh has a bigger economy than Norway, that doesn't mean Bangladesh is richer than Norway, because what matters is per capita income... per person.

"The other thing is, because immigrants are so poor, when you count them and look at per capita, that income becomes lower. But that again doesn't tell you whether or not the native born population is better off."

To hear the rest of the conversation, click the link below.

FULL AUDIO: Garland talks illegal immigration and the economy with Steve Camarota

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Garland: Remembering C.B. Forgotson

C.B. Forgotston is dead.  It’s a loss that few outside of his circle of friends and family will notice and that’s as big a tragedy as his death.  C.B. absorbed a lot of hate and anger in an attempt to make our lives better.

He had the education and experience to see the weakness of our legislative and legal system and the courage to reveal the truth.  He stayed angry over what he found in the hopes that we would too.  It would seem that in the end he decided it was a battle lost.

But C.B. didn’t lose the battle.

We did.

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Garland: Let's put mass shooting reports in a 72-hour can!

In the film days of television news, when a camera person or reporter made a report in advance, we called that “putting it in the can.”  So how about we put reporting mass shootings in a can that we can use over a 72-hour period, which is usually the average attention span of media and the public.  

We could divide it into liberal, conservative and independent cans.  Keep in mind, there are many more questions, claims and responses, but they are virtually all the same after every shooting.  Once all the buts and rebuttals are in the can, media members would be able to take a 72-hour vacation on a regular basis.  After a mass shooting, simply pop the can and sit back and watch for three days!

When the liberal can was open, we would automatically hear:

1.    We have to have gun control!
2.    Congress must pass laws restricting gun buys!
3.    Why does anyone have to have a semi-automatic rifle?
4.    Why don’t we have more extensive background checks?
5.    Why can’t we keep guns from those on watch lists?
6.    Why can’t we keep domestic abusers from owning guns?
7.    How about gun related research to find scientific ways of isolating those who would use guns in mass shootings?

Then we could pop the conservative can and we would automatically hear:

1.    The Second Amendment can’t be changed to facilitate gun control!
2.    Congress is full of partisans! Our respective members don’t vote for us if we reach agreements with the enemy!
3.    Semi-automatic simply means the shooter only fires one bullet at a time.  It’s not an automatic rifle like soldiers carry.  Target practice.  Gives the ability to shoot a threat multiple times. If we give the government any ground in gun control, the government will eventually take away all our guns!
4.    If the shooter has no criminal or psychiatric records, the check does nothing to prevent the shooter.  The shooter will simply get the weapons on the black market.  Private gun owners will simply sell to whoever wants their gun!
5.    280,000 people on the watch list have absolutely no connection to terrorists - it would be just one more attempt by the government to whittle down our gun rights!
6.    A domestic abuser could buy a gun on the black market or from a friend or pay someone to buy the gun for them.  The government is trying to deny Second Amendment rights!
7.    Research would veer towards advocacy, just like “liberal” climate research!

When the independent can was opened we would hear:

1.    Are you kidding?  Over 300 million guns are in the hands of American citizens.  Who exactly is going to go get them? Numerous law enforcement organizations are on record saying "not us!" Gun control isn’t going to happen!
2.    Republicans and Democrats hate each other so much they can’t even agree on how to pay for road repairs.  There will be no partisan agreement!
3.    For any gun debate, remember one piece of research.  When a true believer is given irrefutable proof that their firmest beliefs are partially or totally wrong, they will double down on that belief! And then wait for it... neither libs or cons believe the research!

72 hours are up!  Anyone for football or festivals?

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Garland: Has political correctness gotten out of control?

Do you hesitate to say Merry Christmas out of fear it may offend somebody? Do you consider yourself politically correct or incorrect?

A sheriff in Harris County Georgia posted a warning sign – “we are politically incorrect.” “We say Merry Christmas, God bless America, in God we trust...we salute our troops and our flag – if this offends you – leave.” ​Would you want a sign like that in your town? Do you think political correctness is necessary or has it gone too far? Do you worry about offending people with simple greetings? How do we balance 1st amendment rights with political correctness?

To better understand some of this I invited Ari Cohn, attorney & author with FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) onto the show to share some thoughts. Is this important? Or is this the way things have always been?

"Humans have always had a tendency to want to shut up people that disagree with them; we've spent the better part of our history trying to conquer that. It is a vitally important issue, particularly in our nation's colleges and universities, which are supposed to be the incubators for ideas and developing critical thinking skills and giving us the next generation of people who will lead this country. So to see all of these demands for censorship and attacks on free speech is certainly disheartening, although it is certainly nothing new."

I've read about micro-aggressions and trigger warnings... what are those and what do we do about them?

"Micro-aggressions are statements that are not made with any intent to be offensive but which are perceived as racially 'aggressive,' like asking someone where they're from if they appear to not be from the area... which maybe makes some kind of small assumption on the part of the speaker but is not made with any malintent. Trigger warnings were originally devised for purposes of PTSD in terms of people who had been in war, and later migrated to people who had been victims of sexual assault that may have flashbacks hearing or seeing a certain thing.

Now, it's migrated onto college campuses, asking for content warnings on anything that someone might consider offensive or unsettling or challenging or difficult, which is particularly distressing, given that college is the place to be exploring and confronting challenging ideas."

So how do we strike that balance of exercising our right to free speech and not being unneccessarily offensive? To hear the rest of the conversation with Ari, and your calls, click the link below.

FULL AUDIO: Garland talks political correctness with Ari Cohn

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